Bruins Better With Khudobin

There’s something fishy going on in Boston, and it stands between the pipes at TD Garden. Boston Bruins goaltenders Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin have been getting different results out of the 18 skaters in front of them. So much so that it has the entire Bruins community buzzing.

Some think Khudobin is the right call, others hypothesize that Rask may be a problem. Either way, something has to speak for Khudobin’s 7-0-2 record this season compared to Rask’s 3-8-2 through the early stages of the 2017-18 campaign.

Tuukka Rask Anton Khudobin Bruins
Boston Bruins goalies Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

Hopefully, a deep dive into the statistics side-by-side with the good old eye test will be enough to crack the code: Why are the Bruins playing better in front of Khudobin?

Khudobin & Rask By the Numbers

Khudobin is 13-1-2 since Bruce Cassidy took over on Feb. 7, 2017. Rask’s 12-7-1 record under Cassidy last year combined with this season’s record has him pegged at 15-15-3 in that same time span.

But let’s key in on the four consecutive starts Khudobin had between Nov. 16 and Nov. 24. The Russian-native gave up just seven goals on 127 shots, resulting in a .945 save percentage (SV%) and Boston was able to put up 12 goals during their backup goaltender’s time in the spotlight.

Anton Khudobin
Khudobin has quite the statistics under Bruce Cassidy (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

The least number of goals Rask has given up in four consecutive games this season was nine between Oct. 28 and Nov. 4. The offense was only able to muster eight goals for their starter during that four-game stretch, outshooting their opponents by just 120-118.

In the five starts that Khudobin has made in November, the Bruins put up a total of 14 goals, good enough for a 4-0-1 record. In Rask’s seven starts this month-to-date, the B’s registered 16 goals and have gone 2-5-0. They simply have not been in command of the ice in front of No. 40, be that home or away.

Moreover, the Bruins have given up 78 goals and scored 99 in the 33 games Rask has taken the crease under Cassidy. Comparatively, the Bruins have given up 37 goals while scoring 54 in the 15 games Khudobin has started under the same head coach.

Tuuka Rask Bruins
Rask is not getting the same effort from the Bruins as Khudobin (Bruce Bennett/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports)

During the Cassidy era, that’s a 2.36 goals-against average (GAA) for Rask versus a 2.46 GAA for Khudobin – a slight advantage to the starter. But, when it comes to offense, Boston has averaged three goals per game in front of Rask but 3.6 goals per game with the backup between the pipes.

The Khudobin Effect

If you need another indication of the stark difference in the offense in front of these two goalies, look at this past weekend: The B’s outshot the Pittsburgh Penguins 33-20 in front of Khudobin but were slaughtered by the Edmonton Oilers 36-25 in front of Rask, who only let in three of those shots on the evening.

From the balcony at the Bruins end of the ice for their bout against the Penguins, it was clear to me that the defense was able to quickly clear any rebounds Khudobin might have left. They also seemed to only get caught in their own zone for an extended period of time twice at even strength.

The same could not be said for Sunday’s game when the Oilers came to town. Connor McDavid and crew skated all over the B’s, giving the Boston faithful nothing but jumbotron-enthused antics to cheer for.

Anton Khudobin Bruins
Khudobin has been getting some extra offense out of the Cassidy-coached Bruins (Marc DesRosiers-US PRESSWIRE)

While the goalies’ different attitudes may not be the key reason why the offense has looked better with Khudobin in net, could it be the style of play? Khudobin has more of a hybrid style, allowing him to move a more quickly. This also leads to a wilder, Tim Thomas-style of play which can result in bigger saves when you’re as zoned in as Khudobin has been.

Rask, on the other hand, relies on the butterfly. This allows him to take away the bottom of the net – even when the puck is loose in front, you’ll see No. 40 go down into the butterfly and wait for the puck to find him. The result is that Rask saves nearly every shot you would expect him to save, and in a nonchalant, calm fashion.

In turn, which style is going to get those sticks banging on the boards along your team’s bench? The incredible split to make a blocker save or the pad save that looks like a bumper kicking out in a game of pinball?

You can argue that the style of a team’s goalie should not have an effect on the team’s effort in front of him, and with that, this writer will agree. But could it put a boost in the B’s stride to get them those extra goals? That would take someone closely woven into the team’s locker room to determine but it is worth considering.

According to Bruce Cassidy, however, Khudobin is just making an extra save or two:

‘A lot of what’s happened with Tuukka’s starts is that we need one more save or we need to score one more goal,’ Cassidy said. ‘It’s one or the other. And if we’re not going to score, then hopefully (we) get that one more save. That’s been a little bit of the difference with Anton.’ –  from the Boston Herald’s article (11/22/17) ‘Bruce Cassidy on benching Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask: ‘He’s not happy, but he gets it.”

Cassidy’s take is somewhat obvious and confirms the notion that there is some extra offense in front of Khudobin and big saves up his sleeve. As to why, however, the coach has not given much insight. In fact, he does not seem concerned with it at all.

Bruce Cassidy Bruins
Bruce Cassidy has one of the best problems a hockey coach can have (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

Right now Cassidy has a hot goaltender in his backup while his starter is cold, and he seems adamant about making the starting decision game-by-game. Even better, is the fact that that Khudobin has only lost a single game in regulation since the coaching change. If anything, this should give Cassidy a reason to smile.

It is almost certain that Rask will get his crease back this season – he is the starter and will be the man in Boston for the foreseeable future. The week ahead is daunting, but the Bruins have hopes that Khudobin can keep his winning streak alive and that the offense keeps on rolling in front of him while Rask searches for “that one more save.”